Throughout 2018 and 2019 farmers across the country suffered at the hands of Mother Nature. Wildfires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and most recently massive flooding have wreaked havoc on rural America and farmers’ bottom lines. A $17 billion disaster aid bill, which has met numerous snags along each step of the process, is moving to the House rules committee today, a sign relief for affected producers could be near.
“The total economic contribution of agriculture in congressional districts in which major natural disasters occurred in 2018 and 2019 is estimated at $83.8 billion and encompasses 419,000 direct agriculture-related jobs,” says John Newton of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “These economic contributions include all monetary market transactions and jobs directly related to farming in congressional districts that contain a county with a FEMA-declared natural disaster.”
With those kinds of statistics, it would seem lawmakers would be eager to get aid pushed through their respective chambers. While these kinds of bills usually pass through Congress with bi-partisan support, this time lawmakers are in gridlock on the aid. And it’s all because they can’t agree how much of this $17 billion disaster aid bill should go to Puerto Rico.
Democrats want more food assistance for the island, expanded Medicaid funding and full coverage for the cost of services from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, CNBC reports. Republican lawmakers and President Trump alike say Puerto Ricans have had enough help and it’s time to help farmers.
“The Dems don’t want farmers to get any help. Puerto Rico should be very happy and the Dems should stop blocking much needed Disaster Relief!” Trump said on his Twitter feed.
One Democratic Senator, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking member of the appropriations committee, fired back on Twitter.
“The President is holding disaster aid to ALL American citizens hostage over a petty, political grudge against Puerto Rico,” he tweeted.
As is often the case, farmers are caught in the crosshairs of a political gunfight. Of the $17 package, $3 billion is allotted to help farmers throughout the country. Unfortunately, the damage to farms, orchards and fisheries likely exceeds $3 billion.
“Private estimates of the costs associated with the flooding alone is in the billions, e.g., Nebraska Faces Over $1.3 Billion In Flood Losses, Farm Losses Drive Iowa's Flood Damage to $2 Billion, and Congress recently received financial assessments related to a portion of the damage from natural disasters at $7 billion,” Newton says.
Unfortunately, without disaster aid farmers will not be able to recoup all of their losses. Some livestock producers will qualify for USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program, but assistance is limited to 75% of the market value of lost or injured livestock. Similarly, crop insurance will fall short of helping farmers in the Midwest who lost grain due to flooded grain bins.
“While crop insurance is available for some of the commodities damaged by natural disasters, it is revenue-based insurance and does not cover the financial losses associated with harvested commodities damaged or lost while in storage,” Newton says adding that crop insurance doesn’t cover future financial losses associated with downed orchards.
Affected farmers, many of whom are financially hanging on a by thread, will hold their breath today as the current version of the House disaster aid bill makes its way to the House Rules committee to determine which portions will be eligible for amendment on the House floor. Just one more step in the long, drawn out process of getting the help they hope for.